by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

The phrase “crony capitalism” need not be limited to mention on CNN and Fox News.

ESPN might as well start wearing out the term in reference to the BCS and college bowl season, too.

Alert college football observers know what we’re talking about in regard to the latest crass move by the BCS network when Virginia Tech, humiliated in its ACC championship game against Clemson, was nonetheless invited to the Sugar Bowl.

And the bowl execs and BCS head honchos continue to act flabbergasted that their sham of a system dare be criticized?

Virginia Tech’s invitation to the big-money Sugar Bowl is a loser in a merit-based argument, considering that the Hokies (whose non-conference slate consisted of Appalachian State, Arkansas State, East Carolina, and Marshall) were smashed in both of their games vs. the only ranked team on their schedule, aforementioned Clemson. But the Sugar Bowl’s thinly-veiled excuse to invite VPI mainly because of its appetite for tickets doesn’t wash, either, considering that the Blacksburg, VA school was having trouble moving its allotment of ducats, the sale of which supposedly the main reason the Hokies were invited to New Orleans in the first place.

Virginia Tech fans could certainly be excused from another long-range trip to watch their gridders after the Clemson debacles and last year’s wipeout loss vs. Stanford in the Orange Bowl.

But the ticket-selling argument is flimsy in the first place, as plenty of other schools and their energized fan bases would have loved the chance to get to the Big Easy, too. From the BCS-league ranks alone, Kansas State would have been not only a more appropriate merit-based invitee, but would have sold at least as many tickets as Virginia Tech, if not more, given how excited the Wildcat fan base has been at the resurrection of the program under veteran HC Bill Snyder. Moreover, Boise State, despite the fact it lost out on the Mountain West title thanks to a 1-point loss vs. TCU, would also have been a far-more appropriate invitee. Those who don’t think the Bronco fan base doesn’t travel well probably weren’t at the BCS Fiesta Bowl two years ago, or in Las Vegas before and after the game when thousands of Broncos fans stopped by en route or on their way home from that game vs. the Frogs.

We would also suggest that ESPN itself, which is televising the Sugar Bowl, would hardly be overjoyed at the prospect of another possible Virginia Tech beatdown on national TV. The prospect of BCS-busting Boise or the Bill Snyder storyline at Kansas State would certainly have equated into better ratings for a game vs. Michigan than a matchup featuring the damaged-good Hokies.

No, this was simply the latest example of the old-boy network taking care of one another, with the Sugar Bowl and those on the gravy train in New Orleans simply looking out for old friends at VPI, who have proven to be loyal guests in the past. Those past Hokie trips to the Big Easy came with a lot more excitement than the VPI fan base likely has for this year’s version of its football team. And another example of why the BCS is about as popular to the college football masses as a kick in the pants.

* * *

As the college coaching carousel continues to spin, we’ve seen a few surprising moves in the past couple of weeks. None more so than Arizona State’s hiring of Todd Graham from Pittsburgh.

Fitting, perhaps, that the Sun Devils go for another serial carpetbagger after going out on a limb for Dennis Erickson following the 2006 season. Graham, however, makes the peripatetic Erickson look almost like John Wooden by comparsion, now working on his third job in less than a year. Graham completed the circle by informing his Pitt Panther squad by text that he was no longer their coach and would now be employed by ASU instead.

Graham has had some success, though comparably modest, in past stints at Rice (another one-year stay) and Tulsa. The earlier move from the Owls to the Golden Hurricane was an easier sell because Graham had left a coordinator’s job at Tulsa for the Rice job in the first place. It seemed as if he were responding to a call from home to return to Tulsa. But Graham hardly distinguished himself in his brief tenure with the Panthers, and many informed observers are suggesting that Graham’s greatest strength has been to hire top-notch offensive coordinators, be it Gus Malzahn (recently named Arkansas State head coach) or Chad Morris (who upgraded Clemson’s strike force considerably this year). No accident, some say, that Pitt’s offense looked as stale as month-old bread for much of this past season, as Graham was without his offensive braintrust crutches who propped his career up the past few years.

As for Arizona State, AD Lisa Love hardly distinguished herself in the recent meandering coaching search, either, drawing criticism from a hungry fan base about her secretive nature in searching for a new coach, then enduring the indignity of seeing big boosters in the Sun Angel Foundation pull the rug out from under her plans to hire away June Jones from SMU. Love undoubtedly fell for the sweet talk provided by Jones’ agent, old charmer Leigh Steinberg, without consulting others who believed Jones would not only be a poor fit, but cost a heavy exit fee (reported in the $2 million range) to escape from SMU. We’re not sure if Love had the final call on the Graham hire, but since she appeared prone to sales jobs (the type of which Graham is a specialist) earlier in the process, it would be no surprised if she failed to notice the various chinks in Graham’s armor, too.

Elsewhere on the coaching carousel...

Gus Malzahn. That the aforementioned Auburn offensive coordinator would make the move to Arkansas State seems rather curious, as just a year ago agent Jimmy Sexton had seemingly upped the ante for Malzahn by reportedly wringing a potential deal rumored to be in the $2.5 million per year range from Vanderbilt, only to back out of the process with the Dores once that financial baseline had been established. But a year is a long time in the coaching world, and Malzahn’s star wasn’t nearly shining as brightly this December as a year ago when Cam Newton made life much easier. Moreover, word began to spring that the video that had sprung on the internet involving featuring Malzahn’s wife Kristi at a Christian Leadership Summit conference from October in Birmingham might have scared off some potential employers, especially North Carolina, where it seemed Malzahn might be ticketed. With Ole Miss and Kansas also deciding to look in other directions, Malzahn, desperate to cut his head coaching teeth at the major college level, was left with fewer suitors other than in Jonesboro.

Charlie Weis. The heavy-set former Notre Dame HC and recent Florida offensive coordinator was a surprise hire by Kansas, a move that has hardly energized the Jayhawk fan base. And that’s before the supporters have even gotten a taste of the Weis personality. We are left to wonder why damaged goods such as Weis get these chances and sorts such as ex-Tennessee HC Phil Fulmer (who has been campaigning unsuccessfully for a variety of jobs the past two years) and Tommy Bowden continue to get bypassed.

Other current openings. Again, these situations remain fluid and could see jobs filled at any time. At the moment, however, here is the scuttlebutt on some of the remaining coaching openings...

Penn State...Word from Happy Valley is that the damaged Nittany Lion program probably waits until after the bowls to name its new coach, with interim Tom Bradley still reportedly in the picture. That’s because this job is a very tough sell at the moment. New names to pop into the mix have been Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe, Green Bay Packers QB coach (and former Notre Dame QB) Tom Clements, and another Packer assistant, safeties coach Darren Perry.

Pitt...Tom Bradley’s name, which was in the mix last year when the Panthers made a pair of hires in a one-month span (Mike Haywood and the aforementioned Graham), has reappeared again in the Steel City, along with Florida International HC Mario Cristobal and Wisconsin o.c. Paul Chryst. Don’t expect Iowa State HC Paul Rhoads to make the move after signing a big contract extension in Ames.

Houston...After Kevin Sumlin’s departure to Texas A&M, the names of La Tech HC Sonny Dykes, UL-Lafayette HC Mark Hudpseth, Texas d.c. Manny Diaz, and Oklahoma State o.c. Todd Moncken are being mentioned prominently with the Cougars.

Southern Miss...With Larry Fedora leaving for North Carolina after this week’s Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, the scramble is on in Hattiesburg. The names of aforementioned Louisiana HC Hudspeth, Texas d.c. Diaz, Oklahoma State o.c. Moncken, and Alabama d.c. Kirby Smart have been generating lots of buzz.

Hawaii...One interesting name to pop up in the Honolulu mix is that of veteran Utah o.c. Norm Chow, who has long been a bridesmaid in the search for head coaching jobs. This might be Chow’s last chance to land a top gig. Oregon State d.c. Mark Banker, Texas DB coach Duane Akina, City College of San Francisco HC George Rush, and Jacksonville Jags o.c. (and former Boise State and Arizona State HC) Dirk Koetter are also reportedly on the Warrior radar.

Stay tuned...

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